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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Poised on Rwandan Border

KIGALI, Rwanda -- UN peacekeepers huddled around the television in their bullet-pocked hotel room, shells from rebel mortars pounding outside. The news confirmed their fears: The French were coming. "Have they gone crazy? At best we have to evacuate. At worst the rebels take us all hostage," said a Russian member of the lightly armed UN peacekeeping force, as his comrades shook their heads and cursed in several languages. United Nations peacekeepers in the Rwandan capital consider themselves a likely target of rebels who believe the UN-approved French force will prop up the Rwandan government. UN military spokesman Major Jean-Guy Plante said the UN was prepared to evacuate all of its remaining 450 troops. On Wednesday, the UN shipped out 37 Senegalese, Togolese and Congolese soldiers after the rebels said they did not want troops from the French allies and former colonies. The UN Security Council approved the French plan for a 2,500-strong force Wednesday. The first contingent of French troops was expected to cross the Zairean border into government-held Rwanda sometime Thursday evening. The French say they are coming to protect civilians from massacres by Hutu-dominated government forces that already have left an estimated 200,000 dead, mostly members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority. But the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi-led group that has seized two-thirds of the tiny central African country and besieged the capital since civil war re-ignited in April, says the French are coming to save the government. French troops helped the government thwart a rebel offensive in 1990. In advance of the expected French intervention, the rebels have pushed hard to capture more territory. But their offensive on government strongholds in Kigali petered out early Thursday with little apparent gain and both sides exhausted after nearly 48 hours of shelling. "There's been a lot of heavy, heavy fighting but neither side has conquered any new territory," Plante said. The rebels told UN officials late Wednesday they wanted all French journalists to leave immediately and were arranging escorts to take them to Byumba, north of the capital. The expulsion order affected two journalists from the France-based Agence-France Presse news agency and four from France's Channel 2. Rebels already have expelled the correspondent of the French daily Liberation. That reporter had traveled to an area near the Rwandan border with Uganda to interview Patriotic Front leaders Tuesday, when his rebel escort told him to keep going.